Is Frumin a Truman?

Sep 13, 2000 at 12:00 am
Matthew Frumin knows the experts think he has no chance to win his Democratic campaign for Congress. What is especially impressive is that he’s running hard anyway.

“This is not a year to sit on your tushie,” he grins. “Especially for readers of the Metro Times, younger people, people who have alternative lifestyles. The choice couldn’t be clearer,” he says, and although he’s a lawyer and a politician, he is dead right.

Indeed, there is something about the Frumin campaign — up to now entirely off the radar screen of the usual hack reporters — that has the feel of a good movie. Frumin is youngish (41) and genuinely idealistic. For one thing, he has to be a little crazy to do this. He is married (to artist Lena Steckel Frumin) and has three kids to support.

The Berkley High and University of Michigan grad had a good life in Washington, practicing law for years before taking a job as a special assistant for global affairs in the State Department. Yet he gave that all up, moved back and decided to live off his savings so that he could work his tail off tackling an incumbent the pros say can’t be beaten.

You gotta love it, especially when you contrast the two. “Toilet Joe” Knollenberg, R-Bloomfield Hills, like his predecessor, “Perpetual Bill” Broomfield, is not a monster like Newt Gingrich or Tom DeLay, but merely outdated wallpaper. A man, that is, who can climb out of an empty limousine unnoticed. Toilet Joe, a buddy of old Bill’s, got his nickname from his as-yet-unpassed “Plumbing Standards Improvement Act.” That would permit our Johnnys to use more than twice as much water per flush, certainly a fine environmental idea in the parched Southwest, and one of the many reasons the League of Conservation Voters rates T.J. a perfect zero.

For eight years, Knollenberg, a 66-year-old insurance agent, has represented Michigan’s 11th District, containing western and southern Oakland County and a chunk of Livonia and Redford. This area is affluent, but hardly nut-right territory. It votes for Carl Levin; Bill Clinton solidly beat Bob Dole here last time, and in a more telling statistic, Jennifer Granholm squeaked through by a few hundred votes.

Yet the district also has voted for Knollenberg by heavy margins, in part because he looks and seems inoffensive. That is, until you study his voting record.

“We intend to expose the myth that he is a moderate,” Frumin says. That shouldn’t be hard, if anyone pays attention. T.J. smiles genially, but votes hard right. He opposed the Family and Medical Leave Act, the Patient’s Bill of Rights, and takes big bucks from the insurance lobby. He opposes virtually anything designed to put the slightest check on gun nuts, from the Brady Bill to the Assault Weapons Ban.

Good old Joe even received a “dishonorable mention” from Republicans for Environmental Protection, and, naturally, opposed John McCain’s campaign finance reform proposal. Nor is that all. Saint Joe is a right-wing Roman Catholic who can always be counted on to try to limit or repeal a woman’s right to choose.

He has voted for school prayer and vouchers and for deep cuts in aid to public education. His presence in Congress, by the way, is one of the anti-abortion lobby’s more successful stealth efforts. When Broomfield tottered off stage in 1992, two pro-choice Republicans, David Honigman and Alice Gilbert, spent a fortune beating each other’s brains out in the primary. Right-to-life quietly backed Knollenberg, who won that election with 43 percent. He’s never been seriously challenged since. Two years ago, Knollenberg spent $1 million to get 64 percent against a 25-year-old lawyer, who spent $16,294. Four years ago, in a more interesting match, a retired physician, outraged at T.J.’s attitudes toward health care, took him on. The elderly doctor, not in the best of health, was ignored by the media and was outspent 20-1. Naturally, he lost too. That man, Morris Frumin, was the current candidate’s dad. Matthew knows it takes money to win, more than the $31,000 his dad budgeted. This time, he’s raised $135,000; if he can get to $300,000 or so, he thinks he may have a shot. Indeed, he would like to win this one for Morrie, and not just for himself. Matthew Frumin’s big issues are environment, gun safety, and, perhaps especially, prescription drug coverage for seniors. Not long ago, he met an ailing 99-year-old woman at a rally in Redford. What was her big issue? “Education,” she said. What about her medications, the candidate asked. “Well,” she told him, “I don’t take my pills anymore.” Sure, they help with the pain, but she just can’t afford them. This, in one of the most affluent areas of the planet, in AD 2000. That makes both Frumins mad. “If you aren’t outraged,” the old saying goes, “you aren’t paying attention.” You can bet Toilet Joe is hoping we sit on our tushies till Nov. 8. His future depends on it. Ours may depend on whether voters are willing to give him a flush. Anyone interested in a campaign where you may make a difference might check out or call his headquarters: 248-626-9461.


True colors and the NRA: You know the National Rifle Association would howl if the cops blew away some white militia supporter on his front porch, whatever their excuse. Naturally, the cops say Dwight Turner was pointing his gun at them. But others say Turner, a law-abiding autoworker on vacation, was just trying to shoot a vicious stray dog. In any case, we haven’t heard a peep out of the NRA. Couldn’t be because Turner was a black man who lived in Detroit, could it? Just checking. Jack Lessenberry opines weekly for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected]